David Sarmento emigrated to the US in 1967. He started working at a factory, but his entrepreneurial spirit led him later to open ‘Sarmento’s Imports’, which is dedicated to importing and distributing wines and spirits that he distributes in over 23 US states.
When did you decide to come to the US?
David Sarmento – It was all very natural. I did military service in Portugal and after that, my wife’s sister, who in the meantime got married, was always calling her here. So in 1967, we decided to come with our two children. I did like everyone else, I came to work for a factory that gave me all the perks. I did all that factory work, worked hours, started at 4:30 am until 4 pm, 5 or 6 days a week, sometimes called me to work on Saturday. Life went on like this for 5 years. At the end of 5 years had already acquired two houses here. It was then that I decided to go to Portugal, in 1972, to visit, at the time everything was going well with the family business in Portugal, I returned to the United States and a year later decided to return to Portugal to stay.
I had a house in Lourinhã, which I still have today, and on May 13, I still remember, I came to Lisbon, on Avenida da Liberdade, to buy a plane ticket to return to the United States. The answer was only if you pay cash if you have no money we will not sell you the ticket. By chance at that time had 20 contos in the wallet and the ticket cost 8 contos. I paid soon. My wife returned to Lourinhã with her children and I returned to the United States. Once here the factory where I had worked hired me again. I had been fortunate that the factory manager liked me so much that he even baptized my youngest son, who was born here, was always like family to me.
How did you decide to be a businessman?
DS – I started working and quickly realized that I had to open a business. It was then that, in 1976, I bought the restaurant that I have leased today to make a sausage factory. I paid the down payment, submitted the factory design, but it was not accepted. I was then left with no great options. I spoke to my wife since I would rather lose the signal money and find somewhere else before, but she stopped me and said that what is done is done. Let’s open a restaurant. That already had a liquor license so we opened the restaurant.
My wife, who worked in a good dress factory, made a good living, knew how to cook, and decided to come to work for the restaurant. I always stayed in the factory until I paid for the restaurant, my salary was enough to keep up. In three years I paid for the restaurant. Customers have always been increased. Thank God everything always went very well. In 1981 I had paid for everything and that’s when I told my friend that I was leaving the factory.
And how did the beverage import business start?
DS – Once I had the restaurant paid I started increasing the volume of business. 40 years ago this was a wonder, there were almost no restaurants and we were always overcrowded. In 1985 my older son was growing up and that’s when I decided to start importing products. I went to Portugal, at the ‘Caves Vice-Rei’, by Mr. Noémio de Oliveira, an excellent person who already knew my father well, since he was from the area. I had no problems, I soon brought the wines to the United States. It took some time yet because I had to take licenses, I could not have a restaurant and import license. At the time we were in New Bedford, we have only been in Fall River for about 8 years. Thank God everything has gone well, there have never been any problems.
What has changed in wines in Portugal?
DS – About 10, 12 years ago I went to many places in Portugal and was disgusted with the image of wine, the labels. Everything is much better nowadays. But in the past, it was a disgrace. We went into the cellars and had no presentation and this was the big problem of Portugal.
What kind of products matter?
Alfred Sarmento – We import and distribute wines, liquors, spirits, beer, and other products. We import products from almost all over the world, from Portugal, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Lebanon, Spain… Our strongest in the American market is retailers, liquor stores, this is our forte, we are also now entering the restaurants. In this sense, we hired some sales staff to work in Boston, a market where we want to enter, not only in Portuguese restaurants but also in others.
How many collaborators do you currently have?
AS – Today we have 22 employees including salespeople, clerks and warehouse personnel. We have a national salesman in Minnesota who has been doing some prospecting work for distributing companies for us. We are now operating in 23 states, in some states with two to three distributors. We are growing from year to year and increasing our sales volume.
Why bet on Portuguese wines?
AS – When we started this company about 30 years ago, we bet on our culture. Even today, although we sold the business, we have retained ownership of the restaurant for 44 years. At that time, when we started with the restaurant, it was very difficult to buy certain Portuguese products. That was the reason why we opened the company. That is why we started marketing Portuguese products. The market 30 years ago was completely different from what it is today.
And what is the image of Portuguese wines in the USA?
AS – Americans know what is ‘Merlot’, ‘Chardonnay’, ‘Sauvignon Blanc’. They know the grape varieties, for this reason, the wines of Chile, which we also sell, had a great growth here. Apart from that, they are relatively cheap. This is important because California wines are already priced high. For this reason, in quality and price, no one competes with Portuguese wines, and the American market is recognizing this. Therefore it is noted that here Portuguese wines and products are appearing more and more.